Friday, 6 January 2012

Grocock Report Published

The Monitoring Officer's report to NCC's Standards Committee, concerning Cllr Grocock and his 'grandson', has finally been published on the council's website, in advance of the Standards hearing Sub-Committee hearing the case next Friday.

This matter first went before the Standards Committee early 2009 so it has taken the best part of three years to reach this stage. As far as I know this is where a decision is actually made although don't bank on it.

As it's been so long let's remind ourselves that the case against Grocock is that he falsely claimed that a young man was his grandson when advocating for him and his partner to be allocated a property. The couple who had only specified Bestwood as an area where he would accept a property. In the end he was allocated a property in Bestwood Park, an extremely high demand area where applicants would normally spend years waiting for a property.

A factor that has previously seen little attention and which I hadn't really taken account of is that Grocock initially made his case via the Portfolio Holder for Housing at the time, Cllr David Trimble and it was him who made the approach to a 'senior officer' (unnamed but we might be able to hazard a guess). It is apparently only in his approaches to Trimble on the couple's behalf that Grocock described his constituent as his 'grandson' and had never done so before when previously approaching housing staff on his behalf.

Grocock says that he only approached Trimble after there being 'no progress' with his attempts to persuade housing officers direct of the merits of his constituent's case. In fact he had been sent two emails explaining why the couple were unlikely to get an allocation any time soon. Normally, a councillor's involvement should stop there.

Grocock's defence, and the conclusion of the monitoring officer, is that in using the 'grandson' term he was ensuring that he was declaring a personal interest as the man was a close family friend. He claims never to have got the emails from housing staff.

Now, this would be fine and a properly functional and honest environment, although you do wonder why he didn't just use the term 'close family friend' which would have been the truth. But at the time it wasn't a functional environment and the use of the term would be more likely to mean that officers would simply see that 'Cllr Grocock's lad' needed a house and to make sure one was provided.

To be fair the report does acknowledge the potential dual interpretations possible of the various facts (see p22) and says that a judgment call is required. Support for Grocock being essentially a 'good egg' is drawn from his 'long record of public life' (ignoring the fact that his stint as Lord Mayor was in its entirety occurring while he was under investigation by the Standards Committee, a situation that should not have been allowed to happen. More on this later) and the fact that he self-referred for investigation and helped facilitate it by allowing evidence collected for the District Auditor to be considered.

However, the alternative interpretation has a good deal of merit too.  Let's imagine for example that it wasn't 'lack of progress' that frustrated Cllr Grocock but that he simply didn't like the answers he had received. It's hard to imagine that he had no idea of the way things were run in the housing department at the time but maybe he didn't have access to the people that mattered himself so he had to go and see Trimble. Perhaps he needed a stronger argument for assistance than just 'close family friend'.

There are interview notes included with the report and it is notable that Grocock spends a lot of time telling the interviewers what he doesn't know. This is the standard tactic of those in power who are caught with their trousers down (for a recent example of a high profile non-Nottingham instance of this see the Murdochs before that Parliamentary committee). It seems fairly evident that Grocock isn't the sharpest tool in the box but the idea that he had no idea of what was going on is not credible.

Another factor that reduces the surprise level of the report's conclusion is that, as I mentioned above, Grocock got himself installed in the Lord Mayor's robes while the investigation was still going on. This strongly indicates that someone was pretty sure that he would be exonerated as otherwise it is not considered wise to elevate the position of a person under investigation.

Another interesting aspect is that, despite the man concerned supposedly being a close family friend, in the interview with Monitoring Officer he says that he was never contacted by him again once the matter had been passed to Trimble. That's a bit odd don't you think? I think it's possible that knowing exactly who this chap is might be quite informative.

So, as I say, the Standards Committee meets next Friday to finally consider the case. The fact that they previously refused to simply rubber-stamp the monitoring officer's conclusion is encouraging but I wouldn't want to put any money on things going against Grocock in the end.

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